By Kathryn Trudeau
Nothing beats that first gummy smile that baby shares with you! It’s the look of pure love, but you know that smile won’t stay gummy forever. It’s only a matter of time before those little pearly whites pop up. You’re ready for teething, you’ve got bibs for drool, nubby teething rings, and maybe even some teething pellets too.
But you may be wondering about all the chewing! It seems like there’s nothing that baby doesn’t want to chew these days, right? Here’s the scoop about why babies chew #allthethings, and what you can do to help.
Teething versus mouthing
The most important thing to note is that not all chewing is related to teething. So if baby gnaws on the leg of his stuffed alligator, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a tooth is causing him pain. Babies are tempted to chew for two reasons:
Chewing while teething feels good to a baby because of the counter pressure that is applied to the sore gums. This is why some babies love a good gum massage when a tooth is sprouting. However, mouthing has nothing to do teething. Mouthing really just means that the baby is putting non-food objects in his mouth or on his tongue. Mouthing is extremely common. In fact, one study of 7-21 month old babies found that 100% of the babies in the study demonstrated mouthing during playtime. That’s a whole lot of chewing and nibbling!
The explorer and the scientist
Babies mouth as a way to explore their world. A baby uses all of his senses to explore a new object. In a way, he is an explorer and a scientist. If baby finds an object and grabs it, he looks at it, smells it, and feels in it in his hands. He may shake it to see what it sounds like and he may lick it to see what it feels like on his tongue.
While we certainly wouldn’t explore new or unfamiliar objects with our mouth, researchers agree that mouthing in babies is a normal developmental response as babies begin to engage with the world around them.
So how do you know if a baby is teething or mouthing?
At first glance, you may wonder if baby is teething or just exploring, but there are a few ways to tell the difference.
- Teething is usually accompanied by cranky or grumpy behavior; after all, teething can hurt!
- More drool is usually experienced during teething.
- Mouthing occurs during wakeful, playful times.
- Babies mood usually does not dip when mouthing; he remains happy or pleasant.
Keeping it safe
Whether your baby is teething or mouthing, there are some safety concerns that should be addressed. The two biggest safety concerns are:
- Choking: Chewing on small items, such as a button that fell on the floor, can present a choking hazard. Hot tip: when babyproofing your house, get down on all fours and do a crawl-through; you may be able to spot items that are right at baby’s eye level. If you can’t keep your eyes on a mobile baby, place him in a Pack n Play or use a baby carrier.
- Germs: The thought of chewing on the dog’s rope toy may sound utterly unappealing to us, but completely amazing to a baby. While we can’t escape all germs, do your best to keep baby away from toys used by a sick child or the family pet. Remember that a dusty pacifier does little damage when compared to chewing on a block that sick child just licked.
How to choose appropriate items for chewing
Despite our best intentions, not everything baby decides to chew on is safe. What we can do, however, is supply our babies with plenty of toys and chewies that do appeal to those little explorers.
When choosing teething toys and chewable items for baby, ask yourself the following questions:
- The material of the object: Is it made of safe materials?
- Is the object easily breakable or will it survive multiple drops and tosses?
- Does the toy contain any questionable paint?
- Is the item intended for chewing?
- Do I trust the source of the item?
Providing your baby with objects that are safe for teething and mouthing offers baby safe ways to soothe sore gums while satisfying baby’s curiosity about objects in their world.
- Toys with multiple textures: the textures offer double duty as they soothe sore gums and satisfy curious minds
- Teethers that a young baby can grasp easily: Because teething generally starts at about 6 months, not all babies have mastered the ability to hold onto things with great ease. Large, easy-to-hold objects are good for younger teething babies.
- Use mesh food bags with frozen breastmilk or frozen cucumber slices or frozen bananas
- Multi-use toys: For mouthing babies, offer toys (such as building blocks) that can be used for play and mouthing. Silicone blocks are ideal for this as there is no paint that can chip off into babies’ mouths.
- Teething necklaces: Teething necklaces for Mom like the Trendy Teethers can offer baby entertainment while babywearing, comfort during uncomfortable bouts of teething, and a distraction during errands (hello, long line at the bank!)
So at the end of the day, teething and mouthing are two totally normal parts of infancy. Arm yourself with the knowledge and tools and you can make it through this phase!
- Definition and frequency of mouthing: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2600509/
Kathryn is a self-proclaimed book nerd who has a passion for natural parenting and writing. As a homeschooling mother of two, Kathryn understands the dynamics of a busy family life. She is the founder of the Cor Domum movement, a mission that guides families through life so that they can parent with joy. Read more at www.katietrudeau.com